MELLOTRON (Argentina), March 1998, p. 29


Hermetic Science

Magnetic Oblivion 1997 52:37

The book Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture is rapidly becoming an obligatory reference for understanding the history of the genre. With its profound analysis, as much musical as sociological, it succeeds in giving a renewed critical respect to progressive rock. Its author is a percussionist and music educator named Ed Macan.

The first album of his group Hermetic Science, a truly eclectic trio, bases its arrangements around two instruments that are really infrequent in the progressive camp: the vibraphone and the marimba. Only Pierre Moerlen has realized albums with Gong in which this sound is featured as the principal protagonist. Macan, who also plays keyboard, piano, glockenspiel, and tubular bells, achieves a fascinating album that renews the sonic possibilities of contemporary progressive music.

Accompanied by Andy Durham and Donald Sweeney on bass, and by Michael Morris and Joe Nagy on drums, the disc offers five pieces composed by the aforementioned Macan, plus a classic by Curved Air, "Cheetah" (from Phantasmagoria), an excellent and singular version of "Infinite Space" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (from Tarkus), and "Mars, the Bringer of War" from The Planets, by Gustav Holst (incidentally also covered by Emerson, Lake and Powell). Macan thus creates an intriguing sonic world, ideal for lovers of tendencies at the vanguard of jazz and progressive rock. It is interesting to observe as an intellectual, a profound critic of this music proposes his own vision. Recommended.


How did Hermetic Science come about?

If progressive rock is to be kept alive beyond our generation (those of us who were born 1946-1964), more young people need to discover and participate in this music. With this goal in mind, all members of Hermetic Science except for myself are college music majors at one of our local colleges or universities, either at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California (where I teach) or at Humboldt State University in nearby Arcata, California. However, when you listen to them play, you wouldn’t know they’re students! They play like seasoned professionals, and bring a passion and enthusiasm to the music that a lot of professionals would be hard-pressed to match.

What is the reason for the utilization of percussion instruments that are so atypical to the genre?

I personally grew tired of the stereotypical keyboards/guitar/bass/drumkit lineup that so much modern progressive music seems to feature. Hermetic Science is an attempt to feature two instruments that, with the possible exception of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, have never been systematically featured in a lead role in progressive music: the vibraphone and the marimba. I have approached these instruments in a radically new way. I have developed a technique that emphasizes the total independence of the two hands, and allows me to play very full textures. Unlike jazz vibes players, who approach the instrument as if it were a horn, I approach it as if it were a Hammond organ or a 12-string electric guitar. This is why Hermetic Science uses a trio format–our goal is to have the vibes and marimba create as full of a texture as possible, but leave enough space for the bass guitar to function as a second lead instrument (listen especially to "Esau’s Burden" and "Fanfare for the House of Panorama").

What is the reason that the cover art contains religious elements?

The cover art blends Celtic motives, from the Book of Kells, with Islamic motives. I selected these images because I think that Celtic and Islamic art, with their intricate linear designs, seem to evoke a kind of sacred geometry that fits well with the music’s emphasis on themes of hermeticism and Christian mysticism.

What are the influences of the group?

I dislike listening to new bands mindlessly copy Yes, Genesis, or ELP (or Marillion, IQ, or Pendragon) rather than explore new paths. We have therefore also tried to draw on elements that aren’t so common in contemporary progressive music: spatial jazz (listen to "Fire Over Thule"), minimalism, middle eastern styles, and essences of Renaissance church music (listen to the fugue in "Trisagion"). However, a listener will recognize elements of 70s progressive, especially ELP, and parallels with chamber progressive groups like Univers Zero or Art Zoyd.

Andres Valle